Between 2005 and 2018, Africa was recorded to have had the highest growth in internet use globally, resulting in a significant global internet usage milestone.
In an attempt to keep that growth on the rise, two of the world’s largest tech companies, Google and Facebook, are building huge undersea cables aimed at further boosting the use of internet on the continent.
On the part of Facebook, it is reportedly working on plans for “Simba” (named after the Lion King cartoon character), an underwater cable that will circle the continent with landings on multiple coasts. This is similar to undersea cable projects the social media giant has undertaken in Europe and Asia.
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It is however unclear whether or not Facebook will partner with African telecoms operators, especially for funding, to undertake this project.
Google, on the other hand, is far advanced with plans to build underwater cables to the continent. It has confirmed construction plans for a cable connecting Portugal and South Africa with the first phase due to be completed by 2021.
Names Equiano (after 18th century Nigerian writer and abolitionist Olaudah Equiano), the new cable will have 20 times the capacity of the most recent projects laid in the region and will first branch out in Nigeria—Africa’s largest internet market. The project will be fully funded by Google.
For Google and Facebook, the tens of millions of people who will come online as a result also represent a larger target market for their ever-growing cache of products and advertising services.
These large-scale underwater cable projects are game-changers for both Google and Facebook who have attempted previous internet access initiatives in Africa. Facebook had launched Free Basics, a platform which allows users to access a select list of websites at no cost, in partnership with local telecoms operators in over 20 African countries. But the free service has been a subject of controversy and has been criticized for being a ”walled garden” version of the internet curated by Facebook.
Separately, Google has launched a free public Wi-Fi service in Lagos, Nigeria. Project Loon, an ambitious plan by one of Google’s subsidiaries to beam internet to users using solar-powered high-altitude balloons, is expected to first launch in Kenya.